Many musicians love to focus on debauchery. Parties and other moments of indulgence seem to fuel song after song.
Electronic music, which caters to fast-paced, often superficial hedonism, especially picks up on these subjects.
But rarely does a band focus on the dark corners of pleasure.
Blaqk Audio not only does, but manages to turn the focus into an addictive, exciting album. Bright Black Heaven, the electronic duo’s follow-up to its 2007 debut CexCells, proves well worth the wait.
From the start, Bright Black Heaven sets itself apart from a lot of the electronic music on the market. The opening track “Cold War” immediately establishes the album’s bleak themes. Eschewing a verse-chorus-verse format, the song builds off soft synthesizers to a swelling crescendo and a lyrical cliffhanger of jealousy.
The songs in Bright Black Heaven focus on dark topics — betrayal, envy, voyeurism and isolation among them — but the album never wallows in that darkness. As with the hinting softness in “Cold War,” there’s an air of elegance to each track. Though Bright Black Heaven is a meditation on hedonism, it more so explores the lies and secrets hidden by it.
In other words, don’t expect big club music. The electronic categorization relies not in vocal loops or rave-inducing beats, but rather in slowly developing tracks. The songs are danceable, but in a more intimate way.
Jade Puget’s compositions mix intense beats with almost sensual melodies to give each track an intensity, but one doesn’t overshadow emotion. “Fade to White” and “Faith Healer” are the perfect examples.
And despite shared themes and subjects, no two songs sound the same. Because of these shared themes and subjects, though, Bright Black Heaven is able to shift from faster-paced tracks to electronic ballads without ever feeling jarring or disjointed.
Some songs even evoke the work of electronic music’s best artists. There are touches of Depeche Mode in the opening of “With Your Arms Around You.” Other songs bring to mind Underworld. But unlike the British duo, Blaqk Audio puts equal focus on its music and vocals.
Bright Black Heaven is an excellent showcase for Davey Havok’s vocal range. In less than an hour, he sweeps through ominous ballads and soaring anthems. So many of the songs, such as “Deconstructing Gods” or “Bliss,” rely on a kind of throaty, sensual delivery for their main hooks. Paired with Puget’s compositions, the songs build, and Havok’s restrained verses become commanding choruses.
That said, Havok can still deliver some intense vocals. “Say Red” showcases his roots as a hardcore singer.
Each song on Bright Black Heaven succeeds, but none more so than “The Witness.” The music is slick and uptempo, with a pulsating beat from Puget. Havok, in his greatest vocal display, sums up the album’s hedonist themes in the bridge, singing, “I wanna hear you say this is your final confession / ‘I’ve never felt like this before’ / I must admit, must say I loved your final submission / Oh, you’ve never looked so good before.”
The album ends on a softer — but still impressive — note. The closing song “Ill-Lit Ships” deviates admirably from the dominant sounds of the earlier tracks. It’s a piano-driven number in which Havok croons over crescendos.
If “The Witness” is the best example of Blaqk Audio’s more uptempo style, “Ill-Lit Ships” is the best of duo’s softer side.
Unless musical tastes suddenly change, Bright Black Heaven won’t be the soundtrack at your next rave. Instead, Blaqk Audio has chosen to explore a side of electronic music that isn’t in the spotlight, and the result is a beautifully crafted album.
Blaqk Audio not only transcends a sophomore slump, it grows as a band.